Thursday, 29 July 2010

We don't bow to objects

This is part of my series on tea ceremony, a traditional Japanese art that I’ve always thought to be significant to design.

Bowing is an essential part of Japanese social interaction. An appropriate bow is required for various situations -- and this applies to tea ceremony as well.

There are three kinds of bows:

SHIN -- the most formal, deepest bow, your entire hands touch the tatami mat. Shin-bows are performed between the host and the guests, e. g. before the guest drinks the tea the host has prepared.

GYO -- a semi-formal bow, not as deep as the shin-bow, your fingers but not the palms touch the tatami. The gyo-bow is performed among the guests, accompanies e. g. the expression "o-saki ni", a kind of excuse for drinking tea first.

SO -- an informal bow, only your fingertips touch the ground. It is just the indication of a bow, for situations when you can't bow properly, e. g. if you have something in your hands, the tea bowl or utensils.

These bows are exchanged between persons, as a greeting and to express respect and gratitude. However, when the guests enter the tea room, a deep shin-bow has to be performed in front of the tokonoma alcove where a hanging scroll with calligraphy or painting and flowers are displayed. But, as the teacher pointed out, it is not about bowing to the objects in the tokonoma. We don’t bow to objects, he said. Quite the reverse. The bow pays respect to the wisdom inherent in the artwork, created in a precious state of mind, allowing it to manifest.

Do I bow to objects?

It’s a question worth contemplating -- again and again.

Do you bow to objects?

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